The thrill of volunteering with SECMOL in Ladakh

1st Jan 2015
Photo of The thrill of volunteering with SECMOL in Ladakh 1/3 by Ajanta Roy Chaudhury
The Campus of Secmol
Photo of The thrill of volunteering with SECMOL in Ladakh 2/3 by Ajanta Roy Chaudhury
On Campus
Photo of The thrill of volunteering with SECMOL in Ladakh 3/3 by Ajanta Roy Chaudhury
The Heroes of Ladakh

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free… ”

The first two lines from Tagore’s poem was apparently dedicated to a place like SECMOL (Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh), it’s just that SECMOL happened after the great poet bid his last goodbye to the known world. I had gone there for a 21-day volunteering experience in the month of January, 2015. 

SECMOL is all about ‘doing it’ and ‘living it’, rather than ‘reading it’, ‘knowing it’ and ‘numbering it.’ The kids who come to stay there are mostly the teenage students of Ladakh, who have been disappointed in their attempts to clear the State Examinations that is required by the education system in India, in order to proceed with their aspirations of higher education.

SECMOL realizes the importance of these aspirations. But the way their system prepares the kids to overcome the hurdles is what distinguishes them from any other contemporary educational institutions in the country. SECMOL not only boasts of ‘successful’ people, but also has an exhaustive list of ‘aware’, ‘wonderful’ and ‘human’ people who have been associated with the organization in the guise of staff members, coordinators and volunteers.

I met so many interesting people during my stay. Binoy has been working as a cook for SECMOL for over a decade. The people living there cannot do without his delicious thukpas, dal and veggies. He seldom speaks in his native tongue (Oriya), for he expresses himself better in the language that he learnt there, when the place started to ‘own him’ too. And he hardly ever expresses his concern about all the land and properties he left behind in his hometown, so that he could cook for the children for so many years. While rushing for work, the same work that he has been doing for the last 11 years, he’s often heard muttering to himself- “The kids must be really hungry after the ice skating class; I’d better hurry with the stew”.

And I had read so many articles and seen so many videos on ‘Self-motivation’ when I was working with some reputed corporate entities, and they would show us how that will help to improve the ‘management structure of the company’ and ‘aid it’s sustainable growth’;but only Binoy could show me how it’s done for real.

What Did We Do?

We ensured that the Campus is maintained as ethically and organically as possible, engaged in enlightening conversations, workshops, classes and talks arranged by the volunteers, staff members and the democratically-run student’s group, made sure that the arid lands of Ladakh do not bother our little potted plants too much and also made sure that the arid lands of Ladakh do not bother our little potted plants too much,

Have you ever danced like a maniac when you know, (read: have known all your life) that you’ve got two left feet? And here’s the cherry on top, the songs are in the native tongue of a place you are visiting for the first time!

And my city-bound life had made me ‘an unmovable object’ by the time I found myself in the midst of these people in Phey, Ladakh.

But guess what? All the cynicism, all the reluctance at being too visible, too ‘me’, started to tap-dance their way to the dance floor.

As the hall resonated with the tales of how the pretty girl had such long hair, that the young guy couldn’t help but lose his heart to her… The city-girl, with her shield of inhibitions, lost the battle.

This blog was first published on

Founded by the passionate educator and loving guardian of the place, Rebecca Norman, and supported enthusiastically by the determined (and quite famous!) environmentalist, Sonam Angchuk, the place breathes ‘freedom’- a feeling that is indispensable in creating an ideal environment for the fruitful acquisition of knowledge. The Student’s Educational And Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) has attained global recognition under the supervision of the founders, who are not only dedicated to the cause of education and empowerment, but are also committed to bringing a major change that also, and largely, involves the environment. While one goes visiting remote villages to teach children, the other is often seen ruminating on his ongoing initiative of turning the barren soils of Ladakh into a cultivable region, with the help of artificial glaciers or ‘Ice-stupas’.